That didn’t take long. After waiting for Rangers hockey for more than four months, it might leave as quickly as it returned. For the second straight game, the Rangers were thoroughly outplayed by the Hurricanes and now the Rangers will play for their season on Tuesday night.
The Rangers were able to keep the Hurricanes off the board for a little longer in Game 2, this time for four minutes and 32 seconds before Andrei Svechnikov scored his first of three goals for his first career hattrick. Artemi Panarin tied the game at 1 a little more than seven minutes later on a 5-on-3 (if the Rangers didn’t score on a 5-on-3 I might have lost my TV), but that was it for the Rangers’ scoring for the afternoon.
Two minutes and 22 seconds in the second, the Hurricanes had a 3-1 lead and the two-goal deficit seemed more like seven goals. The Rangers’ lack of possession kept them from creating quality scoring chances and when they did get a decent shot on Petr Mrazek, it was Brett Howden or Brendan Smith taking the shot. Somehow, the Rangers have made Mrazek look how Henrik Lundqvist looked at Mrazek’s age.
Lundqvist was good once again. Four goals against might have you thinking differently if you missed the matinee, but the same old adage held true in the Lundqvist era: it could have been a lot worse. The only goal of the four Lundqvist had a chance on was Svechnikov’s first, which found its way through Lundqvist’s right arm. The other three weren’t getting stopped by Lundqvist or Igor Shesterkin or anyone.
Lundqvist should be in the net again in Game 3. Even if you discount what he’s done for the last 15 years (which David Quinn likes to do), he’s earned it with his play in this series. It would be risky to turn to Shesterkin now when he’s been in street clothes for both games and hasn’t seen game action since March. If Game 3 is Lundqvist’s last game as a Ranger or if Game 2 was, it would be fitting for him to go out the way every Rangers team he’s been a part of has gone out: with him trying to single-handedly carry the team to victory.
The Rangers’ winning history over the Hurricanes and Lundqvist’s winning history over the Hurricanes will come to an end unless the Rangers are able to win three straight, and they are capable of winning three straight against this Hurricanes team. During the regular season, they won three straight against much better competition, but it might be too late for the Rangers to find their January, February and March play that got them into this qualifying round.
The undefeated 4-0 mark against the Hurricanes this season was a facade. In those four games, the Rangers were outplayed like they’ve been outplayed in Games 1 and 2, outshot 161-104 by the Hurricanes in the regular season and had a worse expected goals total in three of the four games. The Rangers didn’t deserve to win two of those games, let alone four, and they haven’t deserved to win either of these two qualifying games, scoring just three goals in six periods.
In Game 2, Quinn lacked the urgency he has lacked all season, waiting too long to pair Panarin with Mika Zibanejad, and too long to put out forward combinations to give the Rangers the best chance to score. With the defense playing as badly as it has in Games 1 and 2, it would seem ill-advised to wait around for the Rangers to trail in Game 3 before pairing the two stars together. Quinn needs to manage his roster with urgency from the opening shift or it will be the last opening shift the Rangers have this season.